Hoops inventor’s grave fails to draw KU fans

Naismith site largely overlooked in Lawrence

One might expect a steady stream of basketball fans to pass the grave of the game’s inventor: Dr. James Naismith.

Not so.

“Since I have been working here, there has been nobody to come here and ask me where the grave of Naismith is,” said Terry Roberts, office manager of Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery, 1517 E. 15th St. She’s been there since the most important of college basketball months, March.

A memorial to Naismith marks his grave. But it can’t be seen from the street because a mausoleum blocks the view.

Pictures of Naismith hang in Roberts’ office, the first clue for many that the basketball legend is buried there.

“A lot of people come into the office, see the pictures and ask, ‘Oh is he here?'” Roberts said.

Sports Illustrated On Campus compiled a list of “100 Things You Gotta Do Before You Graduate (Whatever The Cost)” and visiting Naismith’s gravesite came in at 64.

But ask Kansas University students if they have visited the resting place and you’re likely to get a blank stare.

“I never really thought about it,” said Katie Curtis, a Wichita senior. “I don’t even know where it is.”

Historian Steven Jansen, shown at the memorial to Dr. James Naismith at Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery, 1517 E. 15th St., laments that the grave of the inventor of basketball is rarely visited, despite the popularity of the sport at Kansas University.

Jim Marchiony, KU associate athletic director, says there are four entries in the current basketball media guide that refer to Naismith’s grave.

“We all would like people to greatly appreciate what Dr. Naismith did,” Marchiony said. “Just because people don’t visit his gravesite does not mean that people do not respect him.”

More should be done to celebrate Naismith’s accomplishments, said Rebecca Phipps, director of Watkins Community Museum of History.

“Basketball is a worldwide event,” Phipps said. “We need to make an awareness of it, by continuing to emphasize that the man who invented the game lived and died here.”

Steve Jansen, a Douglas County historian and former director of Watkins, said it was understandable but unfortunate that Naismith had receded in memory.

“Naismith has been gone so long that there are a lot of people that have (coach) Phog Allen memories, but there are not many people with Naismith memory around,” Jansen said.

Jansen, who wrote the afterword for the biography “The Basketball Man: James Naismith,” by Bernice Larson Webb, said more people should view Naismith as former KU men’s basketball coach Roy Williams did, as part of a great KU tradition. Jansen said Williams would jog through the cemetery and pat Naismith’s gravestone for good luck.

Naismith invented basketball in Massachusetts to fill the need for an indoor winter sport. The first game was played on Dec. 21, 1891. In 1898 he became KU’s first basketball coach when he brought the sport to Lawrence. He died Nov. 28, 1939, of heart disease.